Tag Archive | Transportation

Guest Post – An unusual object found by TxDOT in northeast Texas

This week’s blog is provided by the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) Archeology Section, which discovers archeological evidence of human culture throughout the state when building roads. The blog details new and exciting Caddo findings in northeast Texas where TxDOT excavated portions of a Caddo village. The institute’s Native American exhibits and collections include a selection of Caddo artifacts and the details presented here by TXDOT provide additional insight on the Caddo tribe’s history in Texas.

Caddo Nation’s ancestral homeland encompasses northeast Texas, northwest Louisiana, southwest Arkansas, and southeast Oklahoma.  Archaeologically, we begin to recognize their culture in the area c. AD 900. They lived in spread out, unfortified, agriculture-based communities; however they were a highly organized and strictly governed tribe. While the Caddo were known as a friendly—their word “tejas” means “friend” and is, of course, where the word Texas originated from—they retained a fierce warrior class for when diplomatic channels failed them.

Metal artifact with Spanish Coat of Arms found by TxDOT. Image by TxDOT.

A curious artifact was discovered among thousands of others at an archaeological site in East Texas. The historic artifact was found buried in a manner that suggests it held high value. It appears to be a metal box fragment consisting of two pieces from two different sides of a Spanish jewelry box. The metal is relatively heavy, made from either silver or pewter. The fragment features a mythological beast; either a griffin (front-half eagle, and back-half lion) or a wyvern (front-half dragon, and the back-half featuring a coiled tail like a seahorse). A coat of arms also appears on the artifact and is divided into four sections. Two adjacent sections feature a field of stars, and the other two depict a double headed eagle – a common symbol used in Western Europe by the Holy Roman Empire.

Spain was part of the Holy Roman Empire during AD 1519 to 1556. These years overlap with the Desoto expedition from 1539 to 1543. After Desoto’s death in 1542, his men abandoned the expedition and tried to get back to Mexico. Expedition member Moscoso led the men through Texas (1542-1543), and when he reached the Neches River they followed it south. They would have at least passed very close to the East Texas Caddo site. Moscoso and his men were unable to feed themselves so they began to raid Texas Indian farming settlements. So, it is thought that the artifact may be evidence of Caddo interaction with Moscoso and his men. Due to the artifact’s intentional damage and being of high enough value to be purposely buried, the fragment may be a war trophy. Further, this unique find potentially precedes the date of direct contact between Native Americans and Europeans in the area – that led to established trade starting in 1686.

Caddo pottery fragment found by TxDOT. Image by TxDOT.

Moscoso and his men eventually abandoned the attempt to pass through Texas and turned around and went back towards the Mississippi River. Following the admission of Texas as a state in 1845 the Caddo were relocated to Indian Territory north of their ancestral homeland. Today Caddo Nation capital sits in Binger, Oklahoma with approximately 6,000 enrolled members. This Caddo site was originally recorded in the 1930s but was forgotten until recently. The site’s rediscovery by TxDOT means they can move forward with preserving the location and artifacts recovered, which include engraved ceramics, rare obsidian artifacts, and other stone tools in addition to the fascinating metal fragment. [Lee F. Reissig, TxDOT Environmental Affairs Division]


Object: Saddle


Pack saddle
Mid to late 19th century
Materials: Wood

“Girl with Burro”
by Ritzenthaler & Peterson, 1956. Photo via Milwaukee Public Museum.

This is a Kickapoo saddle, used for horse riding. This saddle is only the wood base of what would have been an elaborate piece of equipment. The horse’s back would have been covered with a saddle blanket and the saddle would rest on top. the blanket was made of leather, cotton, or wool which could be adorned with beads, and sometime feathers or quills. Often saddles like these are wrapped in leather, the stirrups and leather girth would be set in the space between the wooden sides of the saddle. The girth, sometimes called a cinch strap, wrapped around the belly of the horse to secure the saddle on the horse’s back.

The last prehistoric horses in North America died out over 11,000 years ago but horses remained and evolved in Asia, Europe, and Africa. In 1519 horses returned to the Americas with the conquistadors from Spain. In the land that is now Mexico, the Spanish began breeding their horses and taught Native Americans how to ride and take care of the herds of horses. These herders were the first vaqueros, or cowboys. Although the Native Americans were herding, riding, and caring for the horses, the Spanish kept the Native Americans from owning their own horses for many years. The first Native Americans to acquire horses were the Apache, in modern day New Mexico. As more groups of Native Americans adopted the horse, stealing, bartering and breeding horses became a significant part their way of life.

The Kickapoo are a group of Algonquian speakers originating from the Great Lakes area, east coast, and Canada. Before European contact they relied on hunting, fishing, and gathering roots, seeds and wild rice. The Kickapoo first encountered the French in the 1640s when they were still living in modern day northern Michigan. However, the threat of white expansion grew and the Kickapoo gradually migrated south. Resulting in the Kickapoo disbanding into the three distinct groups that exist today, the Oklahoma Kickapoo, the Kansas Kickapoo, and the Mexican Kickapoo (later Texan Kickapoo). During the Civil War Spain granted displaced Native Americans land in the northern part of the Spanish Territory of Mexico. These groups wanted to get out of the United States to get away from the American Armies who were either trying to recruit them to fight or massacre them for their resources. In 1865 a band of Kickapoo led by No-ko-aht traveling to Mexico to seek refuge, were attacked by Confederate soldiers and Texas Rangers, commanded by Captain Henry Fossett. The battle took place on a branch of Dove Creek, east of Mertzon, Texas. The Kickapoo were hunting when the battle began, chief No-ko-aht’s daughter was killed when she went to meet the troops with a white flag. The Battle of Dove Creek is well remembered because No-ko-aht’s account of the battle still exists, making it one of the rare occasions that the Native American side of these conflicts are heard. [Sara Countryman, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Hunt, Frazier, and Robert Hunt. 1949. Horses and heroes, the story of the horse in America for 450 years. New York: Scribner’s Sons.

Latorre, Felipe A., and Dolores L. Latorre. 1976. The Mexican Kickapoo Indians. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Pool, William C. 1950. The battle of Dove Creek. [Place of publication not identified]: [publisher not identified].

Taylor, Louis, and Lorence F. Bjorklund. 1968. The story of America’s horses. Cleveland: World Pub. Co.

Wright, Bill, and E. John Gesick. 1996. The Texas Kickapoo: keepers of tradition. El Paso: Texas Western Press.

Object: Wagon


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Conestoga Wagon
San Antonio, TX
Materials: Wood, Canvas, Leather, Paint

Bicentennial Logo Commissioned by the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, via Wikimedia Commons

Bicentennial Logo Commissioned by the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, via Wikimedia Commons

This object is a reproduction of a 19th Century covered wagon.  It was gifted to the museum on November 20, 1976 by the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission of Texas. It was the second wagon in line as part of the Southern route wagon train for the Bicentennial Pilgrimage.

In 1976, the United States celebrated its 200th birthday with festivities across all fifty states.  In a monumental effort to bring the nation together, an idea was created that would involved every state, a year-long nationwide wagon train pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a journey in search of moral or spiritual significance.  For the Bicentennial Celebration, it was a way to reaffirm the founding morals of the country.  Each state sponsored an authentic covered wagon, which would be represented on a wagon train to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Bicentennial Wagon Train, Summer 1976. Image by bob_u, via Flickr.

Bicentennial Wagon Train, Summer 1976. Image by bob_u, via Flickr.

In total, there were five separate trains, recreating five distinct historic routes in westward expansion– the Northwest route, the Southwest route, the Southern route, the Great Lakes route, and the Colonies route.  The Texas covered wagon was part of the Southern route, along with nine other wagons. The Pilgrimage represented a replay of history in reverse, with all of the wagon trains meeting up at the birthplace of the nation in Valley Forge, on July 4, 1976.

During a time when the country was frustrated and tired from government scandals, the Bicentennial wagon train was designed to reach out to communities and rededicate the country to the founding ideals and principles of the United States.  This was a way to bring people together at every level- federal, state, local, and within communities.  Participants could commit themselves to the entire duration of the wagon train, or they could join for shorter periods of time.  The idea was particularly to get entire families involved- some families even pulling their kids out of school to participate.

The wagon now housed at the Institute of Texan Cultures was a gift from that pilgrimage.  It is the original Texas wagon, which was driven by Hazel Bowen, a native Texan and horse-handling expert.  After the Bicentennial celebrations ended, Hazel drove the wagon back to Texas, and a few months later, was able to drive it once again through the streets of San Antonio. On November 20, 1976 Hazel, escorted by the 1st Cavalry of the United States Army, drove the wagon from Freeman Coliseum, through the streets of downtown San Antonio, and parked it on the grounds of the Institute of Texan Cultures.  This historic covered wagon has been on permanent display since then.  [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]


Bicentennial Wagon Train Pilgrimage. Kenosha, WI: Jem Publishers, 1977.

Cirincione, Dominick J., and J’Nell L. Pate. Texas Sesquicentennial Wagon Train. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Pub, 2011.

Gabriel, Ruth, Harold Gabriel, Bicentennial Commission of Pennsylvania.  Trails and Tribulations: The Great Wagon Train Trek of 1976.  Livermore, CA: Alameda County Bicentennial Commission, 1976.

Kartman, Jean, Bicentennial Commission of Pennsylvania.  Wagon Trains East 1976.  Deer Lodge, Montana: Platen Press, 1978.

Object: Navigation Tools

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I-0356a, c, and e
Reproduction Norse Navigation Tools
20th century
Materials: Wood and metal

These objects are replicas of Norse navigation tools, used by sailors to find their latitude before the sextant and Global Positioning System (GPS) were invented. Tools like these were used in order to figure out where in the sea a sailor was. Traveling by land, explorers can use nature, roads, paths, mile markers and landmarks that make it easier to get one from place to another. However, terrain that has few, or no, landmarks like the desert or the sea are difficult to navigate. Using latitude and longitude helps sailors and explorers determine how far they are from their starting point. Using latitude and longitude can help sailors reach their destination correctly, give or take by a few miles.

A quadrant, was used to measure the altitude or angle above the horizon of a star, this helped sailors calculate their latitude, or the lines on a map going from West to East. Sailors in the northern hemisphere would use the North Star, the brightest star, to find their latitude at night because it is directly over the north celestial pole and never sets. They would measure the height of the star when they started their journey and then they would compare it to the measurements as they traveled with a quadrant. They measured the height of the star from the horizon by placing the quadrant near their eye and the weight will fall to the correct degree.

Other tools used by sailors, Vikings mostly, are the pelorus and the sun shadow board. A pelorus resembles a mariner’s compass, except there is no magnetic needle. This tool was used to measure latitude during the day time. The needle in the middle of the base, or the gnomen, cast a shadow and that shadow was looked at when the sun was in the noon position. A sun shadow board was placed in a bowl of water and was used to calculate the ships latitude and direction. The shadow and the little circles on the base told the sailors whether they were in the latitude they wanted to be in.

Longitude, or the lines on a map going from North to South, was found using the sun and time. However this calculation was more difficult because, unlike today, time was not kept universally and there wasn’t a way to check that your clock was set correctly. Also, clocks and watches needed to be wound up, therefore the watches slowed down and lost time every day as the internal clockworks ran out of energy. They calculated their longitude by knowing what time the sun was in a certain position in the sky at the Prime Meridian, which is at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, United Kingdom. By carrying a clock set to the time at the Prime Meridian, travelers then could compare what time  the sun reached that set position in their location. Each hour of difference roughly equals a 15 degree change in longitude.

The map drawn by Alonso Alvarez de Pineda of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in 1519. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The map drawn by Alonso Alvarez de Pineda of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in 1519. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Many sailors from the 1500s to around the 19th century were explorers. One explorer by the name of Alonso Alvarez de Pineda, a Spanish explorer, was the first known European to map the Texas coastline. Many European explorers did not know where they ended up because they did not know how to calculate both their latitude and longitude. Many shipwrecked on unknown shores, claiming it and then not being able to find it again to colonize it. A French explorer who tried to claim Texas in the name of the French by establishing Fort St. Louis was Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle. Once time became universally synchronized and sailors and land explorers knew how to calculate their latitude and longitude they could explore land more accurately and then find it again when they were starting to colonize it. [Amanda Rock, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Berger, Melvin, and Gilda Berger. 2003. The real Vikings: craftsmen, traders, and fearsome raiders. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.

Bravo, Michael, and Sverker Sörlin. 2002. Narrating the Arctic: a cultural history of Nordic scientific practices. Canton, Mass: Science History Publications.

Ganeri, Anita. 1998. From sextant to sonar: the story of maps and navigation. London: Evans.

Parkman, Francis. 1956. The discovery of the great West: La Salle. New York: Rinehart.

Plant, Terry, and Terry Plant. 1990. Nordic journeys. Newton Abbot: T. Plant.

Roza, Greg. 2010. Early explorers of Texas. New York: PowerKiDs Press.

Watts, Oswald Martin. 1973. The sextant simplified: a practical explanation of the use of the sextant at sea. Sunderland: Reed.

Williams, Brian. 2003. Latitude and longitude. Mankato, MN: Smart Apple Media.

Object: Doll

I-0503a (2)

Limberjack or Jig Doll
20th Century
Materials: Wood

This object is a limberjack doll, sometimes called a jig doll because it is designed to “dance a jig.” A limberjack doll is similar to a puppet. It is made of wood and is usually modeled after a human or animal figure. A limberjack doll features sectioned joints at the shoulder and elbows and at the hips and knees allowing the figure to move.

A limberjack doll is operated much like a rhythm instrument. First, you must sit with one end of a thin board under you, with the opposite end out in front or out to one side. While holding on to a wooden stick that is inserted in a small hole in the back of the doll, the doll is held above the board with its feet barely touching the board. Next, you lightly tap the board just behind the doll’s feet. The board will bounce gently causing the Limberjack Doll to move at the joints. These dolls provided hours of entertainment throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Pullman advertisement poster, 1894 via Wikipedia.

Pullman advertisement poster, 1894 via Wikipedia.

The limberjack doll featured here is modeled after a train porter. A porter is a person who assists passengers board trains. A porter is responsible for everything from loading a passenger’s luggage onto the train to making up the beds for passengers in the sleeper cars. In the United States the Pullman Company was responsible for creating the first sleeper cars in the 1860s. As the American Civil War came to an end, the company began hiring former slaves as porters. Since many middle class people had never had any type of assistance, the Pullman Company advertised trips in their sleeper cars as an upper class experience.

The Pullman Company became one of the largest employers of African-Americans. Although having a job as a porter was considered one of the best jobs African Americans could obtain, it was also a job where African Americans had to tolerate being stereotyped and many forms of abuse. The porters were paid incredibly low wages  and had to rely on tips. In addition to being paid low wages, porters were required to pay for their own uniforms, the shoe shine they used on their customers shoes, food, overnight stays on the trains, as well as having to pay for items that were stolen by passengers. Often these costs added up to almost half of the Porter’s wages. Porters worked about 400 hours a month and worked shifts were sometimes 20 consecutive hours.

Pullman Porter helping a woman via Wikipedia.

Pullman Porter helping a woman via Wikipedia.

Although the Porters were not involved, there was an employee strike against the Pullman Company in 1894 over reductions in pay. The strike began in Chicago where the factory was located, and affected railroads across the United States when the strike stopped all trains using Pullman cars from moving. The President of the United States, Grover Cleveland, had to step in to end the strike. He ordered the Army to stop the striking employees. The strike left an unfavorable outcome for the employees as well as the Pullman Company. The strike was also a defeat for the American Railway Union that lead to the downfall of industrial unions.

In 1918 the Order of the Sleeping Car Conductors was created however, African Americans were not allowed. As a result Asa Philip Randolph created an organization called the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. In which porters demanded better working conditions and decent wages. It wouldn’t be until 1925 that Pullman porters saw any improvements. Today many credit Pullman porters as a significant contribution to the creation of the African American middle class. In 1995 the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum was founded. One of their projects included forming a registry of African American Railroad Employees. In 2008 Amtrak became aware of this and partnered with museum to locate and honor surviving porters. [Kim Grosset edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Bates, Beth Tompkins. Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics in Black America, 1925-1945. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Harris, W. H. Keeping the Faith: A. Philip Randolph, Milton P. Webster, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters,1925-37. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977.

McKissack, Pat, and Fredrick McKissack. 1989. A Long Hard Journey: The Story of the Pullman Porter. New York: Walker, 1989.

Pack, Linda Hager, and Pat Banks. Appalachian Toys and Games from A to Z. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2013.

Pickles, Rennie, and Pat Pickles. Jig Dolls: “The Brightest of Entertainers”. Pontefract, Yorkshire: P. Pickles, 1988.

Tye, Larry. Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class. New York: Henry Holt, 2004.

Object: Plaque

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San Antonio
Materials: Metal

These objects are two plaques that were located at the Bexar county courthouse in downtown San Antonio. The plaques were installed in 1936 and commissioned by The American Legion and the Texas division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The plaques were erected in honor of the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway and were dedicated to the soldiers of the Confederacy. The Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway was part of large project pioneered by the National Highway Association.  Starting in 1916 and finished in 1920, the goal was to have a highway that would link Miami to Los Angeles.

The plaques were commissioned by the American Legion, a patriotic veteran’s organization established in 1919, dedicated “to the soldiers of the Confederacy and the daughters of the Confederacy.” The Legion has a long history of supporting pro-veteran legislation including the GI Bill. The plaques were also sponsored by the Texas division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which was originally founded in Nashville, Tennessee. The United Daughters of the Confederacy became one of the driving forces behind many Confederate memorials and monuments, often in collaboration with other organizations like the Sons of the Confederate Veterans and the American Legion.

Bexar County Court House

Bexar County Court House. Image via Bexar County.

However, these plaques were removed on July 21, 2015. The effort to remove the plaques was part of a larger nation-wide movement to remove monuments honoring the Confederacy. This movement gained momentum following a mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooting took place in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the oldest black churches in the United States and an important site for meetings during the Civil Rights Movement.

The shooting was labeled a hate crime after police learned the shooter yelled racial slurs while shooting the victims. It was later discovered that the shooter had posted images and a personal manifesto online which contained racist statements, and included the Confederate flag. The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” As a result of the shooting 9 people lost their lives, all of whom were African American.

Anti Confederate Heritage Rally Washington DC, September 5, 2015. Counter rally held in protest of the Confederate Heritage Rally at the US Capitol. US Capitol Police kept the groups separated. Image by  Susan Melkisethian, via Flickr.

Anti Confederate Heritage Rally
Washington DC, September 5, 2015. Counter rally held in protest of the Confederate Heritage Rally at the US Capitol. US Capitol Police kept the groups separated.
Image by Susan Melkisethian, via Flickr.

The shooting in Charleston prompted many people to protest the Confederate flag, as a symbol of hate, and called its removal from public spaces. In some locations protestors tried to remove the flag themselves and some were arrested. On June 22 the governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley called for the removal of the flag. The flag was officially removed in July after long hours of deliberations. Governors from Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina also sought to get rid of  Confederate flag license plates in their states.

As Confederate flags came down from public spaces around the country, retailers like Walmart, Target, and Amazon stopped the sale of Confederate flag items. In San Antonio a call to inventory Confederate symbols around the city uncovered 9. The Bexar Country Commissioners Court deliberated for hours and finally came to the conclusion to take down the symbols. Judge Nelson Wolf stated, “We are simply not going to glorify a symbol which to many people, not all, but to many people has become a symbol of fear and a symbol of hate.” The plaques were donated to the Institute of Texan Cultures after the Commissioners Court directed that the plaques be placed “in an educational or museum setting where they can be interpreted in a balanced way.” [Tanner Norwood, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Hague E., and Sebesta E.H. 2011. “The Jefferson Davis Highway: Contesting the Confederacy in the Pacific Northwest.” Journal of American Studies 45 (2): 281-301.

Hattaway, Herman, and Richard E. Beringer. Jefferson Davis, Confederate President. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002.

Horton, James Oliver, and Lois E. Horton. Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory. New York: New Press, 2006.

Moley, Raymond. 1966. The American Legion Story. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce.

Prince, K. Michael. Rally ’round the Flag, Boys!: South Carolina and the Confederate Flag. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.

Object: Compass


Compass replica
Date: Unknown
Origin: American
Material: Wood, Iron and Ceramic

Exploration is how many countries were born, without exploration we would not have the United States, we would not have the technologies, foods or even cultures that we experience today. Yet, every good explorer needs tools to help them navigate across the worlds’ terrain or vast seas. At the very least an explorer should know which direction they are going, and the compass was one of the first tools created to help give us direction. This replica compass has a small cup on a wooden base, along with an iron and wood crosspiece. This compass design is used by filling the cup with water and floating the wood and iron crosspiece in the water. The iron, if magnetized, will be pulled toward the north. Rubbing it with a magnet or lodestone can temporarily magnetize the iron or any other metals.

Instructions for making your own homemade compass can be found here, and videos teaching you more about magnetism and compasses can be found here.

The lodestone is a naturally occurring stone with magnetic properties. Suspending the lodestone from a string or floating it on a piece of wood allowed it to move toward the northern magnetic pole, the north, because of its magnetic properties. How the lodestone itself is created is still debated. One theory suggests that lightning magnetizes the stones. Evidence to support such claims is that lodestones are often found near the earth’s surface, where lightning would be able to reach them. The origin of the name lodestone comes from Middle English, lode meaning way or course. Thus, the literal translation gives us the way or course stone, used by early mariners to show them the way.

Learn more about the lodestone and its mysterious power from this short video:

Before the compass the stars in our solar system were the main tools used to identify north, south, east and west. With the sun rising and setting the same way each day and stars mapping out what we today call constellations, a pattern was formed and directions were set. Directions, before the compass, were based on landmarks, such as a tall mountain or common streams. Some even claim that these early ways of giving directions is how Europe got its name, from the Phoenician word Ereb, meaning ‘toward the setting sun’. As the business of trade was important to many counties, devising a way to determine direction was crucial. It is not known for certain when the first compass was discovered, but the Chinese were amongst the first to write about the compass. With the discovery of the lodestone we find evidence of the earliest directional tools. Interestingly enough,  early Europeans thought they were being pointed north, meanwhile the Chinese, using early compass technology, thought they were being directed south. This leads us to another confusion at hand, the moving north.

Movement of the magnetic north pole from 1600 to 2000. During the period of the great northwest passage expeditions, the pole moved slowly through that very region. Via: Truls Lynne Hansen Tromsø Geophysical Observatory - University of Tromsø

Movement of the magnetic north pole from 1600 to 2000. During the period of the great northwest passage expeditions, the pole moved slowly through that very region. Via: Truls Lynne Hansen
Tromsø Geophysical Observatory – University of Tromsø

Now the north isn’t actually moving, but the magnetic north is, which is the direction that a compass leads you. Our magnetic north is shifting because it uses magnetic properties from the magnetic field of the earth. As the earth’s hot liquid core shifts it sends out electrical currents that make up the earth’s magnetic field and this changes the location of our magnetic north. It is still accurate for general direction but the compass can’t lead you to the geographical north pole. The geographical north, also often referred to as the ‘true’ north, is a fixed point in our Northern hemisphere. It is believed that mariners, most often our earliest known compass using explorers, were the first to notice the deviation between the true north and magnetic north. Thus, by the 1500s we had substantial mapping of the earth’s magnetic field, but it was later explorer John Ross, along with his nephew James Clark Ross, that would first locate the magnetic north pole.

Geologists have watched the magnetic north travel ever since, through traces of paleo-geomagnetism, which is just a long word for the study of the history of earth’s magnetic field found in rocks and minerals. They found that the magnetic poles of the earth have actually traded places several times over thousands of years. So the north we see on the compass today was once actually the southern magnetic pole, but the poles will switch again, so keep an eye on your compass. [Trisha Taylor, edited by Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Gillian M. Turner. North Pole, South Pole: The Epic Quest to Solve the Great Mystery of Earth’s Magnetism. New York, NY: The Experiment, 2011. 

James Clark Ross. On the Position of the North Magnetic Pole. .Vol. 124, (1834) , pp. 47-52. The Royal Society.

Jordan Howard Sobel . Kant’s Compass. Erkenntnis (1975-).Vol. 46, No. 3 (May, 1997) , pp. 365-392. Springer.

R. Glenn Madill. The Search for the North Magnetic Pole Arctic. Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring, 1948) , pp. 8-18. Arctic Institute of North America.

Roald Amundsen. A Proposed Expedition to the North Magnetic Pole. The Geographical Journal .Vol. 19, No. 4 (Apr., 1902) , pp. 484-489. The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).

Object: Chaps

I-0491a (3)

Leather chaps
Materials: Leather and brass studs

This item is a pair of worn leather chaps given to the museum in 1995. Chaps were and still are worn by cowboys and ranchers. This type of clothing is an essential piece of a cowboy’s attire that protect the legs of cowboys while riding horses and when walking through rough landscapes. Leather is a thick and durable material that is hard to penetrate. It makes it possible for a cowboy to walk safely through areas with thorns, burrs, stickers, and barbed wire. Chaps also help to protect the rider from friction related “saddle sores.”


1873 Map of Chisholm Trail with Subsidiary Trails in Texas. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

During cattle drives leather chaps would have been crucial for cowboys. A cattle drive is when a herd of cattle are transported by foot from one place to another. These drives became very important in the 1840’s and 1850’s during the California Gold Rush. Due to the increase of wealth in California the demand for beef raised dramatically. Cattle from Texas was being driven and sold to California citizens for 50 to 200 dollars per head (between 1,500 and 6,000 dollars in today’s currency). Drives from Texas could last between five to six months. Later on in the 19th century, the Chisholm Trail became known. This trail is considered to have been one of the largest cattle drives in the country. At the most it is estimated that 600,000 to 700,000 cattle were driven from Texas through Oklahoma to Kansas in a single year.

mary bunton

Photo via: Hill Country Books

On this trail a woman by the name of Mary O. Taylor Bunton (known as Mollie) made the ride with her husband James Howell Bunton, from Sweetwater, Texas to Coolidge, Kansas in 1886. Out of fear of being left alone on their ranch she decided that she would join the cattle drive. During that time it was considered inappropriate for a woman to ride on a cattle drive, making her one of the few cowgirls of the Old West. Despite speculation and doubt Mollie was determined to make the drive. She was one of few women (possibly the only) to make this drive and was named the “Queen of the Old Chisholm Trail” when it was over. Years later in 1915 Mollie made her cattle drive experiences into a book, “A Bride on the Old Chisholm Trail in 1886.” Years later in 1948 at the motion picture premier of “Red River” Mollie was honored since it was believed that she was the only woman to make it up the dangerous trail.

“Red River” is one of countless movies based on cowboy life and cattle drives. These motion pictures became extremely popular in the 20th century, later they were known as western movies. The star of this movie was the famous John Wayne, considered to some as the face of western films. Wayne’s career thrived for over 50 years, making an appearance in nearly 200 films and starring in 142 of them. Most of his movies Wayne is either a cowboy, a ranger, or something of the sort. In the early 1970’s he was offered a role in Larry McMurtry’s “The Streets of Laredo“. However, Wayne turned down the role and the film was forgotten until 1985 when McMurtry wrote a prequel novel called “Lonesome Dove.”


Photo via: IMP Awards

“Lonesome Dove” was turned into a minseries in 1989. It starred Robert Duvall and Tommy-Lee Jones as two retired Texas Rangers who decide to drive a herd of cattle from Texas to Montana. The story is inspired by the real life accounts of Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. The tale features the two men and their partners’ experiences on the trail. They face numerous life threatening adventures including floods, snakes, and Indians. These experiences plus many more would have been incidents that other real life cowboys went through. [McKayla McCarty, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:
Bailey, Jack, and David Dary. 2006. A Texas cowboy’s journal: up the trail to Kansas in 1868. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Davis, Ronald L. 1998. Duke: the life and image of John Wayne. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Gard, Wayne. 1954. Chisholm Trail.

Kraisinger, Gary, and Margaret Kraisinger. 2004. The Western: the greatest Texas cattle trail, 1874-1886. Newton, Kan: Mennonite Press.

Massey, Sara R. 2006. Texas women on the cattle trails. College Station: Texas A & M University.

McMurtry, Larry. 1985. Lonesome Dove: a novel. New York: Simon and Schuster.


Object: Shillelegh

I-0183a (3)

Shillelagh, walking stick
Patrick Ledwith
Material: wood

This walking stick, sometimes called a shillelagh, an Irish walking stick or club, was donated to the Institute of Texan Cultures by an Irish immigrant from west County Meath, Ireland, who immigrated to Texas in the 1870s. The shillelagh is reputed for being a fighting club. As travelers in Ireland would use it defend themselves from bandits and thieves when traveling on the road. Traditionally, Irish walking sticks are made from Blackthorn wood, a very hard durable wood.

Photo via Cold Steel

Photo via Cold Steel

Photo via irish-stick-fighting.com

Photo via irish-stick-fighting.com

The walking stick itself is named after the Shillelagh Forest in County Wicklow, Ireland, which was once full of massive oak trees until it was cut down for wood exports. During England’s occupation of Ireland, the term shillelagh became common when referring to Irish walking sticks, as the name was applied to the sticks by an Englishman. In Ireland, it was considered a “badge of honor” to carry a shillelagh for an Irishman. For young boys, carrying a walking stick was a sign that they had entered into manhood.

The shillelagh is a focal point of Irish stick fighting, and part of Irish tradition and culture. The walking stick associated with Bataireacht stick fighting, a form of Irish martial arts, and is a common weapon used in Irish stick martial arts. During the 17th and 18th centuries, fights would break out between community factions that opposed each other. Factions would be formed for many reasons, ranging from family feuds, dowry payments, to inheritance disputes. As these fights broke out more often, stick fighting martial arts developed as walking sticks were used as weapons. Each faction had its own martial arts style, using code words if needed to keep their fighting style known only within their community. Irish stick martial arts is practiced today in Ireland, and across the world is certain schools, such as the I.S.F. WORLDWIDE (ISFW) Association.

Demonstration and clips of martial stick fighting

Demonstration of Bataireacht stick fighting

As Irish immigrants came to the United States after the Great Potato Famine, these Irish-Americans became prominent advocates for independence of their home country. Under the influence of Americans ideals of freedom and democracy, Irish-Americans became active supporters of Irish independence from Britain, appealing to legal policies but also resorting to violent methods on occasion. As Irish-American fights broke out between factions in American cities, shillelagh stick fighting became associated with Irish culture during the late 19th century. [Caitlin VanWie, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:

Bubb, Alexander. “The Life of the Irish Soldier in India: Representations and Self-Representations, 1857-1922”. 2012. Modern Asian Studies. 46 (4): 769-813.

Curtis, Edmund. 2002. A history of Ireland: from earliest times to 1922. London: Routledge.

Hurley, John W. 2007. Shillelagh: the Irish fighting stick. Pipersville, PA: Caravat Press.

Ó Murchadha, Ciarán. 2013. The great famine: Ireland’s agony, 1845-1852. London: Bloomsbury.

Object: License Plate


License Plate
Materials: metal, paint


Photo via: Texasfreeway.com

From 1935 until 1975 Texas license plates were only valid for one year at a time and the date was stamped into the plate itself, rather than a yearly registration sticker or seal. The color of the plate and the date stamp changed each year to help officials more easily recognize un-registered vehicles. However, exceptions were made during the Great Depression and WWII due to financial hardships and the desire to conserve metal. The 1968 Texas license plates were each stamped with the word “HemisFair” at the bottom to help promote the exposition being held that year in San Antonio.


Model – Texas Pavilion at HemisFair ’68, Photograph, 1968; digital image, (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth65909/), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas.

The 1968 HemisFair exposition, also recognized as a “World’s Fair,” was the first international exposition in the Southwestern United States, and was held in conjunction with the 250th anniversary of the founding of San Antonio. Endorsed by congressman Henry B. Gonzales and many local businesses in San Antonio, the fair was a celebration of Latin American culture and was designed to promote the city of San Antonio as a center for international trade between the US and the world. The theme of HemisFair ’68 was the “Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas,” and more than thirty nations were featured during the fair. Many of those nations hosted exhibit pavilions in an area of the HemisFair park complex called “Las Plazas del Mundo.” To help highlight San Antonio and Texas’ strong ties to Latin America and the world, the Institute of Texan Cultures first opened as the Texas State Exhibits Pavilion at the 1968 HemisFair. Today, the museum continues to pursue a mandate as the state’s center for multicultural education by investigating the varied experiences of people from across the world who call Texas home. [Kathryn S. McCloud]

The following video describes the 1968 HemisFair in more detail.

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